7 Lessons from Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, the Decade’s Top Innovator
Just 2 days ago, Forbes published a sweeping profile of Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, dubbing him “Tech’s Mad Genius” and “The Decade’s Top Innovator.” It’s an unusual look inside the busy life of Salesforce’s dynamic leader — and whether you’re a budding entrepreneur or an experienced manager, there’s a lot to learn. (The article hits newsstands Sept. 13) Here are seven of his most powerful lessons.
Lesson #1: Always Be Innovating
In the Forbes profile, Benioff dropped a few early hints about their new artificial intelligence (AI) technology, Salesforce Einstein, which will be revealed at Dreamforce on Oct. 4-7. Einstein, Benioff predicts, will power the next decade of growth at Salesforce. “If this is not the next big thing, I don’t know what is,” Benioff told Forbes.
Lesson #2: Be Inspired by What You Do
If you’ve seen Benioff speak (as he does every year at Dreamforce), you know the infectious enthusiasm he brings to a room. The same enthusiasm permeates Salesforce, and it’s a big part of what inspires his many employees, partners, and especially customers to take on new challenges, year after year. That energy is part of the magic behind Salesforce’s success. As Forbes put it, “Benioff can still get excited about his own products like a kid who’s found a new toy.”
Lesson #3: Stay Nimble
Part of Salesforce’s original vision was to disrupt traditional, on-premise enterprise software by replacing CD-roms with customer relationship management (CRM) delivered via the cloud. Today, that same drive to disrupt pervades the company — but getting a 25,000-person company to move like a startup is a different challenge altogether. “We’re changing the engines on a 747 in midflight,” Benioff told Forbes. That may sound daunting, but it’s crucial for any company that wants to keep challenging industry standards.
Lesson #4: Cultivate a Beginner’s Mind
Benioff often emphasises the importance of a “beginner’s mind” – the openness and willingness to learn that often comes with a lack of subject-area expertise. In Benioff’s case, this translates to an “insatiable curiosity” that has kept him – and Salesforce – on the bleeding edge of what’s new and innovative in enterprise tech.
Lesson #5: Know When to Delegate
Larry Ellison, the founder of software giant Oracle and a mentor to Benioff early in his career, describes him as “a natural manager.” Walking the fine line between management and micro-management – between providing vision and being overbearing – is something only the best managers achieve. The Forbes story shows Benioff’s approach to leadership through the lens of Salesforce’s business in Japan. “I can only advise here, or it won’t work,” Benioff told Forbes, underscoring the importance of choosing a leadership team you can trust to execute in the best way they see fit.
Lesson #6: Persistence Pays
Innovation isn’t just about coming up with the big vision. Successful innovation also depends heavily on the ability to execute – and a lot of that comes from persistence. “The more transformative your idea is, the more patience you’ll need to make it happen,” Salesforce Chief Creative Officer John Zissimos wrote earlier this year. And despite Benioff’s energy and drive, patience is also one of his strengths. As he told Forbes, “When I get something in my head, it’s hard for me to just let it go.”
The business of doing business is to improve the state of the world.
Lesson #7: Go Beyond the Business
One of Benioff’s most unique qualities is his commitment to societal issues, from equality to education and children’s health. One quote encapsulates his philosophy: “The business of doing business is to improve the state of the world.” When Benioff started Salesforce, he founded 1-1-1 integrated philanthropy model, whereby the company donates 1% each of its products, equity, and employees’ time to the community. Since its founding, the 1-1-1 model has expanded far beyond Salesforce – companies, such as Twillio, Yelp and Atlassian have all adopted the 1-1-1 model. And more recently Benioff has taken a stand on issues such as Equal Pay and LGBT rights.
What is Dreamforce and the Tony Robbins connection?
Now in its 14th year, Dreamforce is an annual user conference hosted by Salesforce in downtown San Francisco, bringing together thought leaders, industry pioneers and thousands of IT professionals for what Salesforce describe as “four high-energy days of fun, inspiration, networking and giving back.”
The leadership model that Benioff uses to set goals for Salesforce was provided by Tony Robbins, a regular Dreamforce keynote speaker. When Marc Benioff decided to quit his job at Oracle and start his own company – the now $50 billion cloud software giant – he turned to Tony.
“Very few people have had such a huge impact on me – my ability to be successful, my ability to give back,” Benioff says, “All of that came out of Tony’s work.”